Alexandra Sagan – The Canadian Press

The Canadian beekeeping industry is buzzing over new numbers that show honey production is up. New figures from Statistics Canada show beekeepers produced 95.3 million pounds of honey in 2015,   an increase of 11.4 per cent from the previous year. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Andy Duback)

The Canadian beekeeping industry is buzzing over new numbers that show honey production is up. New figures from Statistics Canada show beekeepers produced 95.3 million pounds of honey in 2015, an increase of 11.4 per cent from the previous year. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Andy Duback)

 

TORONTO — The son of a beekeeper, Grant Hicks has been in the honey game for more than three decades, operating a multi-generational business that now has him overseeing 11,000 hives along with his own two sons.

But Hicks says the plummeting value of Canadian honey — which dropped nearly $53 million last year — is putting the family farm in peril, a situation he says is being exacerbated by the flow of cheap, watered-down products coming into the country.

He and others in the industry believe some imports of honey are diluted with other sweeteners and then purchased at cut-rate prices to be used as an ingredient in cereals, granola bars and other food products in an effort to save producers from paying more for made-in-Canada honey.

Such a money-saving gambit would save companies “a whole of lot of dollars over time,” Hicks says.

“Would anybody know?” he asks.

For the first time since 2011, the value of honey in Canada fell last year — falling from $210,483,000 to $157,805,000 between 2015 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

Last year, Canada imported about 6.6 million kilograms of honey, down from 7.3 million kilograms in 2015, according to Statistics Canada. However, total honey imports have risen steadily year-over-year from about 2.8 million kilograms in 2011.

“This transhipped adulterated manufactured honey, if you want to call it that, is affecting us huge,” said Kevin Nixon, chair of the Canadian Honey Council.

The problem of adulterated honey is not limited to Canada. It has also affected prices in the international market, said Norberto Garcia, president of the International Honey Exporters Organization.

The Canadian Honey Council has been urging the federal government to ramp up its efforts to inspect imported honey, Nixon said.

He would like to see the Canadian Food Inspection Agency invest in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) testing, which can detect the sweetener’s composition and place of origin, and create a profile of domestic honey to compare imports against.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has identified honey as a sampling priority since 1998, said spokeswoman Lisa Murphy.

Between April 2013 and January 2017, the CFIA tested 266 samples of imported honey, she said, and found 19 or 7.1 per cent contained at least one of added sugars or syrups. The CFIA plans to increase the amount it samples this year.

The CFIA uses isotope ratio technique to test, which Murphy said follows the international official standard method of the Association of Analytical Communities.

Garcia and Nixon both argue that people diluting honey have learned how to beat those types of inspection methods, which is why they say NMR testing is needed.

The Canadian Honey Council continues to press the government to increase inspection efforts, but Nixon said he’s been disappointed with the response so far.

“If people are in the business of operating and trading fraudulent product, they are good at it and they know what they’re doing.”

© Bell Media
Ann Hui – The Globe and Mail

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency revised its plan to impose stricter animal transport rules after being met by industry pressure – setting aside scientific evidence in favour of economic concerns, according to internal documents.

For more than 10 years, the federal agency has been working to update its transport rules for the meat industry to ensure its regulations are “modern and meet international standards, and are supported by science.” By 2013, the agency had put together a plan to drastically reduce the length of time animals can be transported without food, water and rest – in some cases cutting that time in half or more.

But internal CFIA documents obtained by the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, an animal welfare group, and reviewed by The Globe and Mail illustrate how concerns from the meat industry about “negative economic impacts” persuaded the agency to increase allowable transport times for the majority of species.

In the case of day-old chicks, for example, the CFIA’s 2013 plan proposed a maximum of 24 hours in transport. By the time the proposal was published in December in the Canada Gazette, the federal government’s official newspaper, that had been changed to 72 hours. In the case of cattle, 28 hours had become 36 hours. And with spent hens (older laying hens sold for meat once they no longer readily produce eggs), the limit had doubled to 24 hours from 12. Spent hens – which tend to be weaker – are categorized separately because of their vulnerable condition.

CFIA’s animal transport rules have not been updated since 1977 and, depending on the species, currently allow for transport times of 18 to 72 hours. Once the maximum is reached, the animals must be given a rest period. Europe only allows most animals to be transported for a maximum of eight hours. In New Zealand and Australia, the limits generally fall between 12 and 24 hours. The rules in the United States, which have been subject to criticism from animal-rights groups, allow transport up to 28 hours.

In CFIA’s briefing notes and in correspondence among staff, agency officials acknowledge that shorter transport times – generally between eight and 12 hours – are ideal.

“Scientific research supports the lowest possible FWR for [redacted],” one briefing note reads, referring to food, water and rest intervals. Another discusses a 12-hour maximum as “supported by science.” Meanwhile, research papers cited in the briefings describe “increased stress” and “behavioural changes” associated with longer transport times.

But throughout, CFIA employees describe industry push-back. In a document from July, 2015, staffers say one unidentified group “continues to voice strong opposition” to reduced transport times, citing “significant negative economic impact.” Another document outlines how an unidentified group warned that reduced transport times “would result in cessation” of an industry.

As a result, the agency altered its original proposal. “CFIA initially proposed 12 hours for [redacted] this was based on research and the needs of [redacted],” a CFIA manager wrote in a 2016 e-mail. “CFIA is now proposing 24 hours as a result of industry concerns.”

In an e-mailed statement, a CFIA spokesperson said the 2016 proposal still represents a significant improvement over current rules and added that the matter is subject to further changes.

“Under the proposed amendments, the maximum times permitted for animals to go without food, water and rest are being reduced for most species, in line with scientific research,” the statement said. “The CFIA readjusted the proposed maximum time intervals for animal welfare to improve the transportation times; address public concern; and, better align Canada with major trading partners and international standards.”

But critics say the agency is prioritizing industry over animal welfare. “On a balance, they hear from animal people, they get letters from public citizens. But who they really listen to is industry,” said Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals director Stephanie Brown.

Of the 951 groups consulted by the CFIA, only 12 were animal welfare groups. The agency said it reached out to the “major animal protection organizations of which we are aware.”

Maureen Harper, who retired in 2011 after more than 30 years as a CFIA veterinarian, said the current proposal “falls far short” of expectations. In 2003, Ms. Harper served as the acting program officer in charge of the CFIA’s animal transport program in Ontario.

“It’s the tail wagging the dog,” she said. “This is what industry wants.”

She pointed to the decision to double transport times for spent hens. “Half the time they’re barely feathered,” she said. “They’re a very fragile, frail animal at that stage of their life. Truth is they probably shouldn’t be transported at all.”

Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision to fine Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. $6,000 for causing “undue suffering” to a truckload of spent hens after “undue exposure to the weather.” In that January, 2013, case, the hens travelled for more than 12 hours from Chazy, N.Y., to Brampton, Ont., in temperatures that at one point dipped below minus-18 C. Once they arrived, the birds were held in an unheated barn for an additional 12 hours in minus-3 temperatures. By the time employees unloaded the truck, 860 of the 7,680 birds were dead.

In an e-mailed statement, Maple Lodge spokeswoman Carol Gardin said the incident was the result of a mechanical breakdown with the transport company. She added that Maple Lodge has improved its processes and no longer works with the company in question.

Still, Maple Lodge is pushing for looser transport rules.

Ms. Gardin said reduced transport times can in fact be a detriment to animal welfare. She said transporters will often make adjustments to avoid travelling during extreme weather conditions – either picking up birds earlier or keeping them longer on trucks or in barns to prevent exposure.

“By eliminating the flexibility in transport time required to ensure poultry welfare, we are concerned welfare will be reduced instead of enhanced,” she said.

Others, such as the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, also told The Globe it lobbied against reduced transport times. CPEPC president Robin Horel said the eight-hour standard set by the EU isn’t realistic for Canada.

“We are moving poultry, including spent hens, pretty long distances because of the geography of Canada,” he said.

He echoed the warning described in the CFIA internal documents about the potential “cessation” of an industry. Shorter – and in his view, unrealistic – transport times, Mr. Horel said, would lead to birds being euthanized instead. “Those birds just wouldn’t be part of the meat supply.”

The internal documents show that, after doubling the time limit for spent hens, one unidentified industry group pushed to increase that further. In that case, the CFIA held firm. “Further prolongation,” an agency staffer wrote, “is not recommended.”

© The Globe and Mail